Interview :David Letterman He's No Johnny Carson

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A. I still do. I didn't think I'd have a problem with interviews because I had hosted the Tonight show, and there, if you just sit and follow the notes that the staff has prepared for you, you can do a pretty good interview. But for some reason, on this show I had a lot of trouble. I think I just was frightened that suddenly I had to perform as the host of my own show. I was intimidated by guests. So it took a while to overcome that. I remember at one point having a major shift of attitude. After two or three years, it didn't seem that we could do anything to improve the ratings. I can remember just feeling this frustration and despair and exhaustion, and it was kind of like -- screw it. At that point I think I was able to relax more.

Q. When you first became known as the hip talk show, many guests started coming on with attitudes -- trying to top you or do crazy things. Did that make you uncomfortable?

A. Yeah. It still happens and still makes me uncomfortable. I've always been a big fan of Jack Paar's. I had met him, and he had invited me to his home a couple of times. I had always found him to be really interesting and still very energetic and dynamic, and I had wanted to get him on the show. But the response was that he had been advised by friends not to go on our show because we would make fun of him. I was saddened by that.

Q. Some viewers find you condescending, smug, even mean.

A. I suppose I am all of those things, but we never invite somebody on to demonstrate condescension -- or condensation. If somebody comes on and is a bonehead and is loafing through an interview, I resent that, and maybe I will then go after them. But if you come on and are polite and well groomed and behave yourself, then you've got nothing to worry about. I'm stunned at the number of people in show business who come on and don't seem to get that what we want from them is a performance, you know, tell us three stories out of your life. Anybody who has been on this planet 20 years and doesn't have three stories, well, they should re-examine what they're doing.

It used to trouble me that people thought our sole purpose for being in business was to make fun of people. Unfortunately, there is no joke that does not make fun of somebody. I try to make it, as often as not, me or the show or somebody in our little group. So if we do say something that looks like we're making fun of somebody else, it's in the spirit of everything. But some people don't buy that. I know that some people can't stand me, and it troubles me because I think we're just trying to do the funniest show we know how.

Q. Any guests who have particularly annoyed you?

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